2.2- Is it really OK to use "We" and "I"

دوره: Writing in the Sciences / فصل: strong, active verbs / درس 2

2.2- Is it really OK to use "We" and "I"

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Finally, another really important reason for you to use personal pronouns, is that when you put your name as an author on the paper, you are taking public responsibility for its content. So you should actively claim responsibility for the assertions in the text by using we or I. I've heard people argue that removing personal pronouns somehow lends objectivity to your paper. And, interestingly, people have been discussing the active versus passive voice for a long time in science.

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As I was going through the slides in the last module on the active voice, I might have raised a question for some of you. Whenever I talk about the active voice I always get students who raise their hands and say, but I’ve been told that I’m not supposed to use we or I. I’m not supposed to use personal pronouns in my scientific manuscript. And, of course, to use the active voice, you’re going to need to use we or I. So you might be wondering, is it okay for me to use personal pronouns in my scientific manuscript? I’m here to tell you, yes, it is okay to use we and I. If somewhere along the way somebody told you that personal pronouns are not okay, I am going to try to convince you otherwise. There are several reasons why I think we and I are perfectly fine to use in scientific writing and other formal writing. The biggest reason is simply that in order to use the active voice, you usually have to write with we or I. And the active voice is just livelier. It’s easier to read, and I want scientists to write in the most clear and engaging way possible. To do so, you’re probably going to have to use we and I. I also disagree with people who say that removing personal pronouns from your writing somehow makes it more objective. I think that’s a myth. Taking yourself out of the paper doesn’t in any way make your science more objective. And I’ll talk about this a little bit more on the next slide. Finally, another really important reason for you to use personal pronouns, is that when you put your name as an author on the paper, you are taking public responsibility for its content. So you should actively claim responsibility for the assertions in the text by using we or I. I’ve heard people argue that removing personal pronouns somehow lends objectivity to your paper. I think that’s just wrong. You and your team designed, conducted and interpreted the experiments. To write in a way that implies that the experiments just kind of happened is misleading. The experiments and analysis did not materialize out of thin air. So maybe removing personal pronouns gives an illusion of being more objective, but it certainly does not make the science more objective. And, interestingly, people have been discussing the active versus passive voice for a long time in science. I found this paper In Science Magazine from 1957, and I found this nice quote. She sums up my point very well, I think. She writes, after all, human agents are responsible for designing experiments, and they are present in the laboratory. Writing awkward phrases to avoid admitting their responsibility and their presence is an odd way of being objective. All right, even if you’re not convinced by any of the other reasons I’ve just given you, here is a very practical reason why you should use we and I. Journal editors want you to. Journal editors recognize that the active voice is much easier to read. And they want people to read their journals. So the style guidelines for many journals explicitly tell you to write in the active voice. For example, the style guidelines from Science Magazine. They say right there, use active voice when suitable, particularly when necessary for correct syntax, e.g., to address this possibility, we constructed. They are instructing you to use we or I. Other top journals give similar instructions. And actually, it’s worthwhile if we click on this link here, and look at the style guidelines from Science Magazine. I’ll just share a few of these with you. You’ll notice that the editors tell you to do a lot of the things that we’ve been talking about in this course. They tell you to avoid jargon, as we talked about last week. They tell you to use the active voice. They tell you to write concisely, use even though rather than in spite of the fact that. All the same kinds of things we have been talking about. So editors of journals really do want you to write this way. Finally, I can point you to some great papers that use we and I. Here’s a great example, Watson and Crick’s celebrated 1953 paper in Nature, where they give the structure of DNA. The very first sentence of that paper begins, we wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid. The first word in that paper is we. And they use we throughout the paper. We wish to suggest, we believe, we wish to put forward. This is a great paper to read if you have a chance. I’ve actually given the link here. This is a famous paper obviously because the scientific discovery is so important. But not only that, it’s a very well written paper. It’s in the active voice, it’s lively, it’s concise. It’s easy to understand their take home messages. They made the implications immediately obvious. So the paper itself is really quite remarkable in terms of the writing. If you have time, take a look at it and pay attention to their writing style.

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